The Government’s Green Paper, Transforming Public Procurement, published in December 2020, promised a significant shakeup for government procurement. Certainly, industry and public bodies thought so. Together, they made over 600 written submissions to the Cabinet Office.
(You can find DLA Piper’s consultation comments on the reforms here.)
Since the end of the submission deadline in March 2021, there has been limited feedback on the progress of the reforms. Recently, however, the Cabinet Office gave its firmest outline yet of its progress and future plans.
Most significantly, we can expect the Government’s response to the submissions by Christmas. This will be a major step forward in the reform process, when we can finally see in some detail the overall shape of the future government procurement regime. Its publication will finally give public bodies and industry the further detail they need to start to prepare for the new environment.
We can also expect some changes to the original proposals, as Ministers have taken into account various submissions. This is helpful. As we explained in our response to the Green Paper, there were a number of very good ideas within it, but also ideas that needed further development and some missed opportunities. For example, the proposals lacked any substantive reform proposals to the rules on contract variations. It remains, however, to be seen whether the changes to the proposals fix some of the problems with the Green Paper or introduce new issues. We do not know, at this stage, whether the Cabinet Office will seek further input into their new proposals or seek feedback on the draft Bill implementing the reforms.
The Cabinet Office now believes that this will be introduced to Parliament in the second half of 2022. So, we may see a second appearance of the Bill in the Queen’s Speech this year, and we can hope to see the Bill introduced to Parliament after the party conference season next year.
All this, of course, depends on the availability of Parliamentary time and other political and legislative priorities. We can certainly see circumstances – for example a May 2023 general election – that might see other priorities further delay the Bill. Even so, it is helpful to have a clear view of the earliest in which the reforms might take place.
If a Bill is introduced in the second half of 2022, we would normally expect it to receive Royal Assent in the first half of 2023. The Cabinet Office indicated that there would be a six-month delay before any parts of the Bill were brought into force. This is to allow public bodies and industry to prepare and adapt for the new rules. This means that the first procurements under the new rules are unlikely to start before 1 October 2023 – a traditional starting date for new legislative regimes.
To properly prepare for the new rules, public bodies and industry will need to understand the detail of the reform. The Green Paper proposals indicated that much of the detail of the reform will sit in either regulations or guidance.
To allow sufficient time for preparation, we hope that the Cabinet Office provides a range of draft material during the passage of the Bill, including any draft regulations and statutory guidance to be issued when the Act comes into force. Without this, even with the seemingly relaxed timetable outlined above, public bodies and industry will scramble to be properly ready in time.
This blog is one of a series on the Government’s procurement law reforms. We will publish a new blog once the Government’s formal response is published, with a series of blogs examining the final proposals in detail to follow.